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MPs to warn on working procedures

MPs are poised to tell ministers to step up efforts to protect dental patients from contracting the human form of mad cow disease.

A report by a commons select committee will warn of 'extremely significant unanswered questions' about the continuing threat, Dentistry has been told.

And it will focus on practises in hospitals and dental surgeries, after allegations that the Department of Health (DH) refused to adopt a new procedure to decontaminate instruments.

A source close to the science and technology committee said: 'We heard a lot of evidence arguing the case for higher spending on research, and the consensus is that this area of inquiry must continue.

'What risks are people running of developing full-blown VCJD?

'There are a number of extremely significant unanswered questions in terms of the number of future cases we can expect to see.

'It’s right that money does need to be spent.

'We can’t ignore the importance of these research programmes, in order to get a better understanding of prion-related diseases.'

The all-party committee heard hard-hitting evidence that patients are not being properly protected, principally from the director of the MRC Prion Unit at the UCL Institute of Neurology.

Professor Collinge, its professor of neurology, said 'several hundred people' have been significantly exposed to the prions blamed for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (VCJD).

He said DH had, more than a decade ago, funded research worth £10m to develop 'novel means to decontaminate surgical instruments'.

The professor’s own unit had received a grant to tackle the 'significant problem' of prions sticking to metal surfaces, including surgical instruments.

The research programme had come up with 'several solutions', including a ‘biological washing powder', which decontaminated metal very effectively at 50°C.

But, the professor said, Government officials and hospitals resisted having to 'change our working procedures', by carrying out a pre-soak.

And he told the committee: 'People are having their lives blighted.

'I think it is disgraceful.'

The source described the inquiry as 'frighteningly complex', which means it is not expected to appear until late July or, possibly, the autumn.

It was widened to look at blood, tissue and organ screening for VCJD, hearing evidence from public health experts and health minister Jane Ellison.

Warnings that patients undergoing routine dental treatments may have been exposed to infection with the human form of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) were first made in the middle of the last decade.

One in 2,000 people in the UK are carriers of the degenerative brain disorder, which first passed from cattle to humans through consumption of contaminated meat products in the late 1980s.

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Comments

Is there any evidence to show a single person in the UK has ever been infected with VCJD from a dental procedure? Sounds like market speak to me. Basically describe a problem, create fear of that problem affecting the target market and then offer a solution. So many lobbyists for industrial concerns trying to persuade committees that everyone should buy their (expensive ) 'solutions'. The good professor clearly wants more research dollars, hence his plug ' People's lives are being blighted' and 'I think it's disgraceful'. That is a call to action for the committee but where is the evidence that it is cost effective or indeed even necessary for dental professionals to jump through yet another no doubt expensive hoop. By all means continue to research VCJD. That is laudable. But scaremongering to squeeze money out of the public purse is not
I'd hate to think that there is evidence that patients are not being properly protected, principally from the director of the MRC Prion Unit at the UCL Institute of Neurology. What is the director doing that is so wrong??
The director is doing nothing wrong apart from alerting the public that you can be infected with vCJD via stainless steel surgical & dental instruments, this has been known for years... The public remain ignornat because dentists choose not to tell us that vCJD is a transmissable disease.
As a dental professional I feel qualified to comment here. The prion situation is an unprecedented and new situation in terms of cross infection issues, that needs to be tackled logically and putting what is best for the patient first. A core principle that is taught to us at university is "above all do no harm" when treating people. The latest research indicated up to 1 in 2000 could be carrying the abnormal prion protein. That to my understanding is a big concern; knowing what we do about the nature of pathological prions and their resistance to conventional sterilization methods. Comments such as Martians are laughable, it should take no more than 5 seconds to see the gaping flaws in such arguments. Of course there is no such evidence, because no such study has ever been done to look for that link. The incubation period for prion disease is many years so no evidence does not mean no possibility. The fact that there are and have been for many many years effective methods of reducing prion levels on surgical instruments to below detectable levels, yet these have not been put into routine/mandatory use is frankly shocking and probably highly negligent. Patients put their trust in doctors and dentists when they visit us and we should treat them with the respect they deserve.
Raj, the public are not all ignorant to the fact that dentists could potentially be transmitting vCJD via their surgical instruments, I certainly avoid my dentist for this very reason. Why is this serious health issue continuing to be ignored? We should be protected from vCJD when we have any form of surgery be it dental or other. We face a ticking timebomb of dementia in the UK and yet nothing seems to be done to stop the spread of vCJD.